Planting Puzzler

What crops do you think Terra Firma grows the most acreage of? The largest amount of? Which crop has the longest season?

As you all know, we harvest crops from our fields 50 weeks out of every year, and we plant seeds or plants in the ground 48 of those weeks. Like all good farmers and most organic farmers, we practice a four year crop rotation — meaning that we don’t plant the same crop in the same spot more than once every four years. This is a way to avoid the buildup of pests, weeds, and diseases adapted to certain plants.

While we grow about 50 different crops, for crop rotation purposes there are 10 different options to choose from:

  • alliums (onions/garlic/leeks);
  • brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, etc.);
  • chenopods (spinach/beets/chard);
  • cucurbits (melons/summer & winter squash/cucumbers/watermelons);
  • corn;
  • legumes (beans/peas);
  • solanum (tomatoes/potatoes);
  • umbels (carrots, fennel/parsnips).
  • Sweet potatoes, lettuce, and basil are minor crops for us.

Some entire families, like solanum and cucurbits, are killed by cold so we only grow them during the warm season. Others we don’t grow in the summer at all, such as brassicas. Beans and peas are cousins but grow in different seasons, as do the members of the Allium family. So at any time of year, there is likely to be at least one member of each of those two families growing here.

The crops we grow also have dramatically different lifespans. Arugula and baby Spinach can take as little as 21 days between planting and harvest. At the other end of the spectrum, Parsnips and Garlic spend 9 months in the ground, Leeks 7 months, and Tomatoes 6 months. The length of day when a crop is growing can add two or three months to this time: Beans planted in early spring take 100 days to reach maturity but seeded in July are ready to harvest just 50 days later. Broccoli transplanted in August makes heads in 60 days; planted in November it can take five months.

In addition to all these factors, we also need to take into account the different types of soil and slightly different microclimates at four different locations in Winters. We farm about 150 acres of vegetable fields (and another 50 of orchards), but if the weather cooperates, all our machinery is running well, and all the details are worked out, we can grow a crop and a half a year on many of those acres.

So what do we grow the most of? If you came to the farm in mid-May, you probably wouldn’t guess “ALLIUMS” even though you would only see 5 acres of garlic and 10 acres of onions (five in the winter planting and five in the spring planting). We also grow 5 acres of Leeks, which at a total of 20 acres makes alliums, but they don’t get planted until July — when the garlic and half the onions have already been harvested.

What you would probably say — and what most people think — is “Tomatoes!”, when you saw twenty acres of that crop growing. And when you add in the five acres of potatoes we also grow (half in the spring and half in the fall), it makes a total of 25 acres of “Solanum”.

No matter which day of the year if you showed up at our farm, though, you probably wouldn’t say “Your #1 crop is CHENOPODS! (Spinach and Beets)”. Because at any given time, we are never harvesting more than a couple of acres of these crops. But because we plant them 9 months of the year — every two weeks from Labor Day until Mother’s Day for Spinach and slightly less often for Beets — we actually grow 30 acres a year of these two crops combined. Our total Cucurbit acreage is also around 30, but with so many more family members it seems like the title really belongs to the Chenopods.

From a farming perspective, it would be much more efficient and less complicated to plant all 150 acres of our farm with a single crop each year on the same day (or the same week, anyway) and harvest it all in a few weeks. Then, the following year, plant something else. That is the way most farms function. But we are not just farming. We are farming for you, our subscribers. And in our own crazy, complicated way, we’re pretty darn good at it. At least we thing we are, and we hope you think so too.

Thanks,

Pablito

In Your Boxes

Our Sugar Snap Peas patch really came through for you this week — as recently as Friday there were still just a small amount of ripe peas out there, but warm weather over the weekend pumped them up. We had a small army of folks picking them Monday in effort to beat the storm forecast arrive Tuesday and last the rest of the week. It’s impossible to harvest peas in the rain without making a big mess of the plants. To our great relief, by the end of the day we squeaked through with enough peas to send some to all our subscribers plus a few extra just in case.

In case you may have forgotten, Snap Peas are 99% edible. Grab the tab at the end and pull off the string or strings attached to it and discard. Then wash the pods — they grow close to the ground and may have dirt or mud splashed on them. Then eat them raw or quickly cooked.

Over the last ten years, Spinach acreage at TFF and on farms across the United States has exploded with the popularity of spinach salads made with tender baby leaves. But spinach is also a versatile cooking green, especially the adult leaves generally sold in bunches. Mark Bittman has a great section in the New York Times this week all about the different ways to cook spinach and a ton of mostly simple recipes for doing it. If you are staring at the very tall bunch of Spinach in your box today and wondering what to do with it, you should consult this fantastic resource. I have included one of the recipes below.

The warm weather and rain in March helped the stragglers in our winter Parsnip field size up and we harvested them all over the weekend. Parsnips are sweet and creamy with their own nutty flavor. They make a great addition to a pureed soup or roasted vegetable medley with potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. but take a little longer to cook. They also must be peeled, and the larger ones have a woody core that should be removed either before or after cooking. Although parsnips are related to carrots, eating them raw is not recommended.

Fennel is in the Medium boxes today, probably for the last time this spring. Although it is most common eaten raw, it is also wonderful grilled or roasted (see picture below). Simply cut the bulb in quarters or eighths from top to bottom (wedges), brush both sides with salt and olive oil, and cook over coals or at 400 degrees in the oven. Flip to brown both sides. Sprinkle with lemon or tangelo juice before serving.

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